The last four days have been a wild ride. It’s not every day you’re reunited with your family after almost two years apart.
It was Otto’s first hug from his uncles and grandparents and Elsie’s first meeting with them since she was just one year old.
The total elation, relief and excitement to be back on solid ground after 31 hours of air travel was unrivalled.
The flights were a bearable struggle, with the children doing a great job of putting up with discomfort, boredom, and sleep deprivation, but nevertheless being restless children under difficult circumstances.
Silver linings of the flights included having Elsie fall asleep in my arms for the first time in over a year (after babbling for half an hour while I tried to sleep next to her: “I spy with my little eye, something that is sleeping. It’s you.” Thanks, Elsie.) and… well, they finally got us to Australia and were not followed by hotel quarantine.
Greeted by my brothers at the arrival gate and my parents, right outside, it was an emotional and beautiful reunion after years of glitchy digital communication and almost unbearable homesickness.
I was amazed to see Elsie completely embrace all of it from the very first moment, and Otto put up with it very well, considering his general disposition and how little he’d slept on the plane.
And now we are on day three of our “The Stralia” trip, and starting to get into the swing of things, with our phones set up, figuring out how to “check in” to shops, and eating a meat pie at a petrol station.
It’s warm, our old dog survived to meet the kids, the sourdough starter survived the plane trip, we’re getting over jetlag, and life is good.
Having not been in Australia since before the pandemic (last time we were here was during the bushfires of 2019), it’s been a strange couple of days learning how to navigate the systems of a country who actually take public health seriously. It’s a lot to get your head around after being largely unrestricted by government entities.
But, through all the rigmarole of getting back “home”, the strangest emotional experiences for me have been had in supermarkets. Walking through aisles of familiar brands and products has been almost overwhelming as I fight the urge to buy up huge swathes of the store and find myself choking back tears in the cracker section.
Maybe the strangest part of all of it is that I can’t even name what I’m feeling. It might be a combination of relief and nostalgia, but it might also be the feeling of knowing we’re only back for three months, and that there’s no way I can fit it all into my suitcase on the way “home”.
That everything I used to take for granted as just life or groceries is now a novelty to be soaked up and enjoyed on infrequent trips. That I no longer know where “home” is, and that, wherever it is, the ability to get back is much more limited than I ever imagined when committing to this life full of complexity and separation.
It’s a life I wouldn’t trade, and I don’t regret it for a moment, but the pandemic has been deeply isolating on a level I haven’t even really unpacked yet. Like our suitcases sprawled over and spilling out onto the floor, life is a bit of a mess, filled with a hesitant selection of what we have judged to be most important, but a little hard to find anything in.
In Woolies, yesterday, buying ingredients for Mum’s birthday dinner, a woman said something muffled through her mask. It took a second to realise she was talking to me, and I’m not entirely sure what she said, but it went something like this:
“I don’t mean to be… but your accent is really catchy(?).”
“Well, I’ve been in Sweden for two years, I guess, so…”
“I guess you’ve assimilated, then.”
“I guess so.”
“Well, it’s free entertainment!”
I don’t really know what she meant.
On getting the kids back into the car, a 60-something man said to Felix, “That’s a beautiful baby.”
“He is, thanks.”
They felt like Australian exchanges, and they were quite nice.
Other highlights from recent days have included Elsie’s amazing and immediate uptake of English, which I had been hoping for, and her attempt at embracing bugs as part of her Australian experience.
Despite not being such a big fan, she has made an effort, introducing herself to them at my suggestion, as a way of becoming more familiar, and therefore less afraid of tiny, tiny ants.
“Hi Buggy, my name’s Elsie,” she told one. “I’m three.”
Otto is, as expected, making himself at home by demonstrating just how many things are in his reach, and how dangerous he can make them for himself and others. A tall, heavy and muscly boy, he is not one bit careful, and is the antithesis to his big sister in many ways.
“Ungh,” he often says, throwing heavy items on the floor or at other people, climbing onto coffee tables, or grabbing a chunk of someone’s arm.
Elsie might be happier than I’ve ever seen her, and it’s already been such a beautiful experience for me, as a mother, to watch the way they’ve both integrated into Australian life.
I desperately want them to identify as both Australian and Swedish and, on day three, any fears I had that it might not be possible are melting away.
Wherever home is, I’m there now, and I’m sure I’ll be ready to go back there in almost three months’ time.